By Beth Donze, Clarion Herald
(Photos Courtesy of Holy Cross School)
*Please note that the website to order this book is spelled “studentreasures.com” (there is only one “T” in the company’s name)
The 19 students who made up last year’s kindergarten class at Holy Cross Primary School can lay claim to a rare distinction: each is a published author and illustrator.
A book they assembled as a class project, entitled “Our New Orleans Alphabet,” recently was selected as one of 50 finalists in the 2018-19 “National Book Challenge” conducted by Studentreasures Publishing.
The alphabet book, which showcases only-in-New Orleans marvels from Audubon Zoo (A) to Zulu (Z), beat out more than 800,000 submissions from schools across the country to snag the Top-50 achievement. It is now available to order as a hardback.
“It was the Tricentennial of New Orleans, and kindergarten is all about learning the alphabet,” said Holy Cross kindergarten teacher Rebecca Velez, explaining the thematic inspiration behind her students’ winning creation.
The book came together relatively quickly, but after much hard work.
Right before Christmas break, Velez and her fellow Holy Cross kindergarten teacher, Natalie Adams, sent a letter to kindergarten families informing them of the book-writing challenge.
Each student was assigned a letter at random and were challenged to brainstorm ideas with their parents on New Orleans-related words that began with that letter.
Upon their return to school in January, the kindergartners narrowed down their ideas to a single word, researched its definition, illustrated the word using colored markers and composed a sentence or two to explain the word to readers.
Before committing their work to print, they practiced writing their sentences in their best handwriting.
“They had to put finger spaces between words, they had to use punctuation, grammar,” Adams noted.
“Writing an alphabet book was really neat, because in kindergarten we’re really learning our letters, and then we learn how to read and we’re learning how to write,” Velez noted. “From the beginning of the year to the end of the year, their progress is amazing, and it’s even more amazing that we were able to capture that in this book!”
The book’s 26 words touch on the many novelties of life in the Crescent City, with sports – specifically the New Orleans Saints – looming large in their selections. “Drew Brees” and “Offensive Line” made the cut, as did the “Superdome.”
Louisiana cooking gets four shout-outs – “Beignets,” “Crawfish,” “Étouffée” and “Gumbo” – while two neighborhoods – “Uptown” and the “Vieux Carré” – satisfy the difficult letters of “U” and “V.”
The book teaches non-natives what a “Fais Do-Do” is (defined by the Holy Cross authors as “a Cajun dance party! Grab a partner and do-si-do.”). Out-of-towners also will learn that the word “crew” has a uniquely New Orleans homonym that begins with the letter “K” – “Krewe.”
Dimitrios Petikas, now a Holy Cross first grader, said he chose “Audubon Zoo” to represent his assigned letter of “A” after having spent a fun day at Audubon’s “Cool Zoo” water park. The experience also inspired his accompanying illustration.
“There’s a humongous alligator (sculpture) that drops a bucket of water on you,” said Dimitrios, admitting that he initially had another word in mind for “A,” but was reminded by his teachers to keep things a bit more local.
“I was gonna do ‘A is for Alabama’ because I like their football team,” Dimitrios said.
“The kids got to identify what New Orleans means to them,” Adams said. For example, one student, whose grandfather has a connection to Lucky Dogs, opted to do “L is for Lucky Dogs” after he was randomly assigned that letter. In the accompanying illustration, the famous food cart is depicted inside the boot-shaped outline of Louisiana and surrounded by hot dogs.
“W is for Who Dat” came from an unlikely source: a kindergartner whose family had recently moved to New Orleans from Texas.
“His family members are huge Cowboys fans,” Velez said. “But by January he understood what ‘Who Dat’ meant!”
The winning alphabet book marked the second consecutive year Holy Cross’ kindergartners participated in the national book challenge. In the 2017-18 school year, the class wrote and illustrated a book entry called “Kindergarten Loves Animals.”
The theme of this year’s undertaking was announced to families earlier this month. Kindergartners will be asked to write about what it means to be a “Holy Cross Man,” which will have them breaking down concepts taken from their student profile, including their call to be men of “prayer,” “piety” and “zeal.”
To order “Our New Orleans Alphabet,” go to studentreasures.com/ordercopies and enter PIN number 7108736. Orders can also be placed by phone by calling (800) 867-2292.